A name that instantly brings images of shamrocks, little green leprechauns, and Ireland itself. Is that all he stands for? Or is there more to the man than the name and the images he has come to represent? Who was Patrick, and what is his story?
Today, in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, I would love to share with you some of the amazing story of this man, that has had tremendous influence in my life.
Saint Patrick was born Magonus Sucatus Patricius around the year 372 A.D. on his wealthy parents’ estate somewhere in Wales, or perhaps in Scotland. Though his parents were Christians and involved in church leadership, as a youth, Patrick rejected their teaching and chose not to follow God.
At sixteen, marauding bands invaded his homeland and took Patrick captive to the “barbarian” land of Ireland. Ireland at that time was a wild land of clans and chieftains, Druid priests, and demonic practices. Once the son of a wealthy nobleman, Patrick was now a slave to a barbarian chieftain, and herded his sheep.
During this extremely difficult time in his life, Patrick began turning to the only source that could sustain him: the God he had previously rejected. God began to stir in Patrick’s heart, and soon such a relationship had grown between them that Patrick himself said, “More and more the love and fear of God came to me, and faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times everyday – and in the night nearly as often. So that I would even remain in the woods and on the mountain in snow, frost and rain, waking to pray before first light. And I felt no ill effect, nor was I in any way sluggish- because as I now realize, the Spirit was seething within me.” He was so full of the fire of the Holy Spirit, that he did not even feel the extremities of the elements that he lived in every day.
Six years after he was taken captive, the Lord told Patrick in a dream to go back to his homeland, and that his ship was ready. Patrick escaped from his master and walked nearly 200 miles to the harbor, where, sure enough, there was a ship waiting. Patrick was taken on board, and sailed toward home. When they landed, however, the crew was forced to walk through a great desert. Not having enough food, and knowing Patrick knew the Lord, the captain said to him, “What’s this, Christian? You say your God is great and all powerful. Then why can’t you pray for us? For we are in danger of dying of hunger. In fact it’s doubtful if we’ll see another human being.” Patrick said to them confidently: “Trust in the Lord my God and turn to him with all your hearts – since nothing is impossible for him, that he may send you today more than sufficient food for your journey-for he has an abundance everywhere.” Suddenly, a herd of pigs appeared, and the crew was saved from starvation and gave great thanks to God. They did not suffer from hunger again on their way home.
Now that Patrick was in his homeland once again, his heart began to turn to the land of his captivity. He saw a man named Victorious coming to him in a dream with an armful of letters entitled “The Voice of the Irish”, and heard many voices from Ireland (some sources even include the voices of unborn children) crying out, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” Patrick was pierced with emotion, and from that time on began to prepare himself to return to Ireland. Leaving behind his family once again, he set out willingly and eagerly for the land in which he had once been a captive.
Almost immediately, Patrick was met with opposition from the Druid priests. He had many confrontations and supernatural contests with them. On one occasion, the day before a pagan Druid celebration, an evil Druid king laid in wait for Patrick and his companions with the intent of doing them harm. However, Patrick prayed ahead of time for their safety, and when they passed by, all the king’s men saw was eight deer and a little fawn walking through the woods—Patrick and his companions!
The next day, as the king was feasting in his palace, Patrick and five of his companions suddenly appeared in the room, though the door was shut! He was there to preach the Word of God to the king. A Druid put a drop of poison in Patrick’s cup to test him. Patrick prayed, and all the liquid turned to ice, except for the poison, which remained liquid and fell out when Patrick tipped the cup. Then he prayed again and the drink resumed its normal state.
The magician, not to be outdone, ordered a contest between himself and Patrick. The priest made incantations, and snow fell waist-high all around them. Patrick told him to remove the snow, and when the priest said he could not until the next day, Patrick blessed the plain they were standing on, and the snow disappeared instantly. The Druid then brought darkness over the plain, but again could not dissipate it. Patrick prayed, and the sun shone down on them brightly.
Patrick evangelized Ireland for over 40 years, bringing many to faith in Jesus Christ, and rooting out the old pagan ways in which they had lived. A part of “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate”, a prayer that he composed to prepare him for this victory over paganism, reads as follows:
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day…
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven…
I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward…
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Patrick’s life was in every way a life of love, honor, and the supernatural. The Ancient Life attests: “After Patrick had founded cells and churches in Munster, and had ordained persons of every grade, and healed the sick, and resuscitated the dead, he bade them farewell, and imparted his blessing to them.” He taught the people the Word and the ways of the Kingdom of God in simple parables so they could understand. The shamrock, which is now synonymous with all things Irish, was used by Patrick to illustrate the trinity to his followers.
Through his unwavering love for the Lord, and his unwavering devotion to his people, Patrick changed the face of Ireland, and has made a lasting impact not only on that country, but on the entire world, reaching even to us today.
The hearty Irish who succeeded Patrick emerged as one of the most vital missionary and educational movements in history. Glimpses says, “Leaving their homeland and carrying the gospel elsewhere was an important part of the Irish Christian tradition. It was these traveling monks who kept Christian literacy alive in barbarized Europe. In the century after Patrick, the Irish monk Columba established the monastery of Iona off the west coast of Scotland and began to create a literate, Christian society among the Scots and Picts of north Britain. Other Irish monks went to the mainland and established at least 60 monasteries throughout France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Traces of their work can be found as far east as Kiev in Russia and as far west as Iceland. Viking invasions of the eighth and ninth centuries disrupted the Celtic monasteries in Britain and Ireland. By then, however, the Irish had already planted the seeds of Christian learning throughout Europe.” Of course, we know that Christianity in Europe eventually spread to the New World—the Americas!
Saint Patrick should be an inspiration to all those who have a heart to spread revival to the ends of the earth. We would do well to follow his example of love and honor, and his absolute confidence in God and His power over every other. His willingness to lay down his life for a nation to be saved is a powerful testimony for us today.
I also have been inspired by this mighty revivalist of God. Throughout Saint Patrick’s life, he focused so completely on God that the plans of the enemy were of no account to him. His heart was turned to the Lord, and Him alone. The fire of the Holy Spirit burned brightly in Patrick’s life, and never went cold. This is a quality I seek to have in my life as well.
In his Confession, Patrick attests, “I came to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others. If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for Christ’s name. I want to spend myself for that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favor. It is among that people that I want to wait for the promise made by him, who assuredly never tells a lie. He makes this promise in the Gospel: ‘They shall come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ This is our faith: believers are to come from the whole world.” I want Saint Patrick’s passion, faith, and love to be evident in my own life.
As you celebrate today with corned beef and cabbage, and perhaps a jig or two, I challenge you to remember and honor the faith of the man that this day is really all about.
The bulk of this post was written as a “Revivalist Report” in 2007, during my second year at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.
The Life of Saint Patrick and His Place in History J.B. Bury London, 1905
The Saints of Ireland Mary Ryan D’Arcy Irish American Cultural Institute, 1974
Glimpses bulletin #75